The Olympics started last Friday, and I am already obsessed. I love watching their friends and family cheer them on. I love learning new names, new sports, and obscure countries, but I think for me the most exciting thing is knowing that this moment is the one they’ve waited four years for. This is the moment they bring all of the training, all of the coaching sessions, all of the hard work over the last four years together on the biggest stage of their lives.
We know some of their names going in -- Michael Phelps, Gabby Douglas, Serena Williams, Kerri Walsh Jennings -- but most Olympians spend four years in obscurity toiling away in the secret, competing in championships far away from the limelight of primetime NBC.
Yet, it is precisely the four years in secret, the morning sessions in the pool, the hours practicing footwork, the afternoons spent reviewing the team playbook, the seven hours in the gym doing the same tumbling pass over and over again that has most of us cheering them nightly from our living room couches.
Their training regimens don’t always seem fun, but they do it anyway for the chance to stand on the highest stage with a shiny new prize on their necks. Suddenly, those four years of really hard work are put into perspective in light of those few minutes on the podium.
As a Christian, I can relate. The process of becoming more like Christ, also known as sanctification, often feels like the most intense training program ever created. Sanctification is the process by which the believer is set apart for God and conformed into the image of Jesus Christ, through the work of the Holy Spirit. It is both God at work in us and our conscience choices that lead to transformation. We must choose to put off the old self and its desires (Ephesians 4:22-24).
This process requires a lot of sacrifice; it requires saying no to things of the flesh; it requires daily time in the Word; it requires time away in prayer and the list goes on. Sometimes, if we are honest, it’s hard and it feels like thankless work. We wonder will it be worth it.
Everyone else seems to be having so much more fun in life. Their road seems easier, less sacrifice, less pain, less difficulty. The co-worker who jokes about cheating on their taxes, the friend who revels in gossip, the neighbor who engages in slander, the family member who refuses to forgive, the church friend too busy to serve, the stranger that walks past the homeless without so much as batting an eye.
For me in this work at the CLC, it’s the other lobbyists who lie to get what they want, who spread money around to ensure that common good is bought and sold to the highest bidder, and it’s unbelievably frustrating sometimes. But, Jesus requires something different for you and me.
He’s training us in righteousness. He’s making us more like Himself. While it’s certainly not glamorous and for many of us will never bring us huge rounds of applause, in the end our efforts are achieving for us a far greater glory (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Not just in the life that is to come, but in this life, too. Paul tells us in Romans that sin leads to death, and while for those who are in Christ it does not mean literal death, sin is destructive; it leads us away from God’s will for our lives here on earth. When we skip out on the training sessions, we miss out on the blessings we are meant to enjoy in this life.
In an Under Armour commercial celebrating the brilliant career of U.S. Olympic Swimmer Michael Phelps, various scenes of his training routine are shown followed by the black and white words, “it’s what you do in the dark that puts you in the light.”
Phelps disciplined his mind and body in the private moments of life in order to prepare for competition before the world. Christians prepare their minds and spirits through the quiet work of prayer, Bible study, and private devotion. The work done in private then allows the light of Christ to be visible in public through faithful service in our local churches, the offering of radical forgiveness to others, and loving neighbors as ourselves.
The end of the Under Armour commercial said, “Rule yourself.” Christians say, “God rules in me.”
One day our dedication will be like those few minutes on the podium for the Olympic medal winners, except our moment will last for eternity. All of our struggles, all of the sacrifices, all of the hardships will be put into perspective by the sight of our Savior and the sound of a “well done my good and faithful servant.”
Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one (2 Corinthians 9:24-25, NRSV).